An estimated 2.3 million American adults have epilepsy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About three out of 10 people have an aberration in their brain structure that causes the electrical storms of seizures. While up to 70 percent of cases begin before age 21, epilepsy affects people of all ages, races and socioeconomic groups. The following information will help you understand this incurable but treatable disorder better.
1. Only 50 Percent of Epilepsy Cases Have Known Causes
Anything that can injure the brain can cause epilepsy. But according to the Mayo Clinic, doctors can identify symptomatic epilepsy causes in just half of patients. Examples include lack of oxygen during birth, genetic defects, autism spectrum disorder, traumatic brain injury from a fall or car wreck, brain tumors and clots, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and infectious diseases such as AIDS, viral encephalitis and meningitis.
2. One Seizure Doesn’t Equal an Epilepsy Diagnosis
Having a single seizure doesn’t mean that you have epilepsy. According to Dr. Lawrence Seiden, a board certified neurologist and psychiatrist at the Peachtree Neurological Clinic in Atlanta, Ga., a temporary medical condition such as a high fever or low blood sugar can provoke a non-epileptic seizure. But an electrical problem in your brain must trigger two or more unprovoked seizures to meet the epileptic criteria.
3. Epileptic Seizure Types and Symptoms Vary
Few experiences match the drama of a convulsive seizure’s involuntary body movements, behaviors and sensations. Unique symptoms differentiate each of epilepsy’s many seizure types. During a generalized tonic-clonic seizure, you may cry out, twitch or move uncontrollably, drool, lose bladder control and/or fall to the floor unconscious. Dazed exhaustion occurs when you regain consciousness within minutes. Recovery time varies from almost immediate to minutes or hours. Rare cases may take days.
4. Medication Can Control About 80 Percent of Seizures
Your doctor may prescribe Primidone, an anticonvulsant, to reduce the abnormal brain activity that causes seizures. Research shows that once medication gets the condition under control, many patients are virtually seizure-free for the rest of their lives. This allows them to hold most kinds of jobs and participate in most other types of activities.
5. Epileptic Patients Aren’t Mentally Ill or Retarded
One of the common epilepsy misconceptions is that patients suffer from mental illness or retardation. While people with these conditions may experience seizures, most epileptics possess normal or above-average intelligence. “The majority of people with epilepsy are completely normal except for the few seconds they are having seizures,” Dr. Seiden said.